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CHEYENNE - Parents of students on an Individualized Education Program (IEP) can rest assured their child will receive the services intended by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), thanks to district cooperation and a robust WDE Focused Monitoring Program.
Every public school child who receives special education and related services must have an IEP, which guides the delivery of special education supports and services for disabled students. In every district, teachers, parents, school administrators, related services personnel all work together with the student to improve educational results.
The WDE Focused Monitoring Program identifies gaps in service after a comprehensive data review, and then provides the district with the technical assistance needed to address unique and specific student needs through on-site visits.
That thoughtful approach is paying dividends for students and districts. Graduation rates for IEP students have risen substantially when calculated across a five-year average.
"When compared with a 5-year to 4-year graduation rate, we pick up 5-7 percentage points," said WDE supervisor of Monitoring and Accountability Michael Harris. "It's far more helpful to track kids with disabilities over a 5-6 year because they are entitled to stay in school until they're twenty-one."
"I'm really proud of school districts around the state," he added. "They're getting really good at identifying what works for each kid instead of programming for types of kids or grades of kids or buildings of kids. That's what's behind the increased performance."
The IDEA legislation was naturally intended to give states broad latitude for implementation. Legal compliance is ensured through an annual State Performance Plan (SPP), which is then reviewed by the USDE Office of Special Education programs (OSEP). Each state plan must include a monitoring program. Wyoming and the WDE demonstrated special foresight by designing a focused monitoring process that moves beyond a compliance-driven-check-the-box to one that improves the educational and functional outcomes of children with disabilities.
"IDEA is a good piece of legislation, but it's predicated on an individual entitlement," said Harris. "We had this idea that we were going to be true to the statute; that we weren't going to short-sell what Congress was trying to do. We think that kids with disabilities are capable of educational excellence, and we weren't going to settle for poor outcomes or kids that didn't graduate."
The WDE placed a priority on gathering broad stakeholder input and analyzing trend data over three years based upon all twenty indicators, using statistically sound practices. Input from partner agencies and special education and behavioral experts assisted in developing targets and improvement activities.
A comprehensive State Performance Plan (SPP) for Special Education is the fundamental guide that encompasses the WDE, the Department of Health Developmental Disabilities Unit and the Early Intervention and Education Program. The SPP is heavily weighted to provide technical assistance to districts where there are instances of non-compliance following a thorough data review and on-site visits.
"A lot of states are stuck in compliance rather than outcomes," said Harris. "I'm familiar with other SPP's. What works for one child may not be appropriate for another child, even though they have the same disability category. When kids have their unique needs appropriately programmed, they can do all kinds of things and it's great to see that happen," said Harris.
As part of an evolving data gathering effort, the WDE is beginning to track IEP students through graduation on into early adulthood to evaluate how better educational outcomes result in students who are competitively employed or college bound.
"It's really not a race; graduation is the thing. The end game is what are these kids doing out in society," noted Harris. "We want to know if they are getting the skills they need in school."
Next: Monitoring teams reflect diversity; expertise.